David Wilkenfeld bought Vyjack for $100,000 last year, became a first-time dad five months ago and now has a chance to win America’s greatest horse race May 4.
“It’s an amazing feeling, an amazing ride,” Wilkenfeld said Monday, two days after Vyjack improved to 4-for-4 by rallying to win the Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct. “I’m enjoying every minute of this because nothing is taken for granted in this sport.”
Vyjack, named for Wilkenfeld’s parents, Vivenne and Jack, has moved into the No. 6 spot in the AP’s latest Run to the Roses list of top 10 Derby contenders.
Shanghai Bobby stayed No. 1 as he continues to train for the Florida Derby on March 30 in his final prep before heading to Churchill Downs.
Other than Vyjack moving in and Overanalyze moving out after a fifth-place finish in the Gotham, there were no other significant changes in the top 10.
Vyjack, a gelding, is just the second horse Wilkenfeld purchased on his own; the other was a $5,000 claimer in 2001. His love of racing comes from handicapping, where the New Yorker has already scored the ultimate victory.
In 2008, he was the single winner of a $3.3 million Pick Six bet at Santa Anita, correctly picking the winners in six consecutive races.
In 2003, he teamed with friends to share a $1.3 million Pick Six ticket at Churchill Downs. Of course, the name he chose for his stable is Pick Six.
“The difference between having success in handicapping and with owning a horse is you get to share it more with friends and family,” he said. “I look at this as more pleasurable.”
The top 10 could undergo major changes after this weekend’s preps, the Tampa Bay Derby and the San Felipe at Santa Anita.
The 11/16-mile San Felipe matches two of the AP’s top contenders: No. 3 Goldencents and No. 7 Flashback. Goldencents is trained by Doug O’Neill, who won the Derby and Preakness last year with I’ll Have Another. Unbeaten Flashback is trained by three-time Derby winner Bob Baffert.
Both colts had final workouts over the weekend – Flashback a speedy five-furlong work in 59 seconds, and Goldencents a six-furlong breeze in 1:11.60.
Verrazano, at No. 4 this week, is the likely favorite in the 11/16-mile Tampa Bay Derby in what’s shaping up as a field of eight. Also expected to run are Falling Sky and Dynamic Sky, the 1-2 finishers in the Sam F. Davis Stakes on Feb. 2, and Eton Blue, trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito.
Here’s our Top 10:
1. Shanghai Bobby (Todd Pletcher, Rosie Napravnik): Worked 5 furlongs in 1:00.90 Sunday at Palm Meadows in prepping for final race before Derby. ... Biggest question about 2-year-old champion is whether 1 1/4-mile Derby distance suits him. ... Won all five starts last year, ran second in Holy Bull in only 3-year-old start. ... Next start: Florida Derby, Gulfstream Park, March 30. ... Derby Future Wager odds: 16-1.
2. Itsmyluckyday (Eddie Plesa Jr., Elvis Trujillo): Worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.60 Saturday at Calder. ... Holy Bull winner is 2-for-2 in ‘13, and 5-for-9 overall. ... Next start: Florida Derby. ... Odds: 13-1.
3. Goldencents (Doug O’Neill, Kevin Krigger): Sham winner worked 6 furlongs in 1:11.60 Saturday at Santa Anita. ... Only loss in four starts was to Shanghai Bobby in Champagne. ... Next start: San Felipe, Santa Anita, Saturday. ... Odds: 24-1.
4. Verrazano (Pletcher, John Velazquez): Head to Florida’s West Coast as heavy favorite in competitive field. ... Has two wins at Gulfstream by combined 24 lengths. ... Next start: Tampa Bay Derby, Tampa Bay Downs, Saturday. ... Odds: 9-1.
5. Orb (Shug McGaughey, Velazquez): Fountain of Youth winner has won three in a row. ... Son of Malibu Moon owned by Stuart Janney and Phipps Stable. ... Next start: Florida Derby. ... Odds: 12-1.
6. Vyjack (Rudy Rodriguez, Joel Rosario): Rousing win in Gotham has gelding 4-for-4. ... Former jockey Rodriguez scored biggest win as trainer. ... Next start: Wood Memorial, Aqueduct, April 5. ... Odds: 11-1.
7. Flashback (Bob Baffert, Julien Leparoux): Robert B. Lewis winner worked 5 furlongs in 59.00 Sunday at under Leparoux, the fastest of 63 works at same distance. ... Baffert looking for fifth San Felipe win. ... Next start: San Felipe. ... Odds: 12-1.
8. Super Ninety Nine (Baffert, Rafael Bejarano): Southwest winner is 2-for-2, and likely headed back to Arkansas for next race. ... Next start: Rebel, Oaklawn Park, March 16. ... Odds: 17-1.
9. Revolutionary (Pletcher, Javier Castellano): Withers winner breezed 4 furlongs in 49.85 Sunday at Palm Meadows. ... Next race will be first outside New York. ... Next start: Louisiana Derby, Fair Grounds, March 30. ... Odds: 15-1.
10. Ive Struck A Nerve: (Keith Desormeaux, James Graham): Sticks around another week off huge upset in Risen Star on Feb. 23. ... Next start: Louisiana Derby. ... Odds: 50-1.
Keep an eye on: Code West, Dynamic Sky, Normandy Invasion, Oxbow, Uncaptured.